Almost dying in Japan – part 2

So I returned to my house with a bag full of drugs and a shed of hope that I had hit rock bottom and that from now on things could only get better. But boy was I in for a disappointing surprise.

The weekend was an orgy in pain and fever induced chills and no matter how much I rested and how many pills I swallowed things would not get any better. Pain 24/7 and the fact that I wasn’t eating properly didn’t exactly help. So on Sunday I decided that I should go back to the clinic the following day and have the doc take a second look at the war zone in my throat. Said and done, I crawled out of bed on monday morning and dragged my ass to the clinic. Not so many people there this time so it only took about ten minutes before I could see the doctor.

When I stepped behind the curtain into her examination room she lit up with a smile on her face and started waving a piece of paper. It was the note I had written on friday… In a voice a little bit TOO cheerful she said “Hello again, how is your Japanese progressing?”. Eh, excuse me? I was here three days ago and you saw the pain I was in. Now I’m here again which means I’m still in pain so do you honestly think I spent the week-end improving my japanese skills you stupid cow?

That is what I wanted to say but I was too exhausted to bother so I just said something like “still not there yet…” and tried to fake a smile. She then told me she had taken the note home and showed to her husband and sons who were all amazed.

Great. I have a fan club.

Maybe my close to non-existent reaction made her understand that I wasn’t the least interested in what she was talking about so she took a quick look down my throat (I swear it took like maybe three seconds). Leaned back and said ひどい (hidoi = awful). She then explained that my throat was the worst case she had seen in years and that I should take my sorry ass to a hospital a.s.a.p.

I was actually sort of relieved to hear this since I wanted some proper treatment and not just get a bunch of new pills prescribed. The doctor was kind enough to call the hospital and make an appointment for me immediately so I thanked her and the other staff and jumped into a cab to take me to the hospital which conveniently was only a 3 minute drive away.

Now in my adult life I have never been to a hospital (in any country) for any other reason than to visit friends/relatives who are sick so while sitting in the cab I was actually a bit worried how it would all play out. I mean if you are familiar with hospitals I guess the procedure is the same everywhere and so even though you may not understand exactly what to do or where to go you at least have a clue of what to expect. But being a complete rookie and on top of that being a rookie in a foreign country I pictured before me a hellish day of confusion and misunderstandings. Now luckily, we had the previous week spent several hours learning kanji and words related to hospitals/illnesses which was a blessing since there were about a million counters, stairways and corridors to get lost among. I managed to fill in the necessary forms without any major complications and was finally let in to see the doctor.

He took a quick look at my throat, squeezed my neck and cheeks a couple of times and then simply stated “this is the worst infection I have seen in a VERY long time, you should have come here immediately!”. “Ok, thank you for that information, maybe you should tell your colleague at the clinic” I thought to myself but kept my mouth shut. He then apologized profoundly and said that there were no empty beds at the moment, but if there had been I would be hospitalized immediately. Instead he decided to put me on IV for 4 hours, prescribe the strongest antibiotics and painkillers in their arsenal and told me to come back the following day for check-up and more IV.

The fact that he said the infection was so bad scared me a little but at the same time I was actually pretty happy to not having to stay the night. The main reason for this was that if I would have been hospitalized I would have had to contact my school which in turn surely would have contacted my family at home. Having a mother that goes crazy if I don’t email at least once every week hospitalization would most likely cause a hysterical fit which would have probably been more troublesome than the illness itself. (if I showed you the emails she were sending right after the 3/11 earthquake you would understand, believe me…)

A short and rather jolly nurse came and took me to a bed where I was going to get the IV and while she was preparing the needle, tubes and some other stuff she fired away with the usual battery of questions.

Nurse: Wow, your eyes are so blue and your hair is so blond, where are you from?

Me: Sweden. Have you heard of it?

Nurse: Ah yes, yes of course!!! You have delicious chocolate and you make such nice watches!

Me: Ehum, no that is Switzerland. Sweden is a country in northern Europe.

Nurse: Ahhh. (a few seconds of silence). But you don’t have a beard?

Me: Ehhh. No I guess not.

Nurse: But all vikings have beard. I’ve seen that in a movie.

Me: Well the vikings are long gone I’m afraid.

Nurse: Ahhh what a shame.

Me: Euhm, well… yes… I guess so.

She then hooked me up to the IV and I fell asleep a few minutes later. When she woke me up I could immediately feel that the IV had done its work and I was feeling a whole lot better than I did before I fell asleep. The nurse told me to come again next morning and when I left she said “see you tomorrow viking” and her two colleagues giggled as I walked out the door.

A nice feature of the hospital was the payment procedure upon leaving. You swiped your patient card in a little reader, and then a receipt with a number and a  bar code was printed. You waited until your number appeared on a screen and then proceeded to a machine with a little screen that scanned your bar code and then informed you of how much you had to pay. Being japan the machine of course had a cute little animated nurse (and her pet bird???) that in an almost erotic voice was guiding you through the whole procedure. After paying you got your receipt and the prescription for your drugs which you could then pick up in a window next to the machines. Needless to say, I LOVE japanese efficiency. In my country the same procedure would probably have been handled by a not so cute living nurse with a not so erotic voice and it would surely have taken at least three times as much time.

This procedure repeated itself the following five days. I had an incredibly boring week which consisted of visiting the hospital every morning, answering the same questions, getting IV and then going home to rest and watch TV for the rest of the day. The subsequent days I was deemed well enough to not having to lay down while getting the IV. Instead I had to sit next to the place where they sterilized used equipment which meant I could not sleep during the 3 hour IV session which was sort of irritating. And since cellphones had to be switched off and reading with one hand was more trouble than it was worth the only thing that could amuse me was this stuffed animal, which in fact wasn’t fun at all but the nurses seemed to enjoy me fiddling with it and occasionally burst out in a high pitch かわいい!!!(kawaii = that is so cute/adorable!). Yeah I’m adorable…

After one week i was almost back to 100% of my normal self and went to the hospital for one final check-up. Everything was fine according to the doctor but to be on the safe side he prescribed a new load of drugs to take the following week just in case. Great, more drugs which meant no alcohol and I was having major cravings for a beer. Upon leaving the short jolly nurse said she was so happy to have had the chance to meet a viking in real life and asked me if we could take a picture together. Of course I had to hold the stuffed animal while posing with her which made the other nurses burst out in the loudest かわいい I have ever heard but she had been so nice to me the whole week that I figured it was the least I could do for her. She promised to email me the picture but I guess she forgot about that since I am still waiting for it…

Even though I have never felt so bad  for such a long period of time in my whole life it was an interesting experience and I apparently lost 5 kg due to the lack of eating which I am not going to complain about. Winter has not yet arrived to the japanese islands (it was over 20 degrees Celsius this week-end) but I am wearing layers of clothes and thick scarves none the less. No more hospital visits this year I hope!

Thank’s for reading!


Emergency gambling

So I was browsing the news on the web and found THIS article which caught my interest.

Apparently japanese authorities are planning to build a “back-up capital” about 500 km west of the present capital. In the event of of a major earthquake, tsunami or other natural disaster in Tokyo many of the public functions would then be moved to the unharmed back-up capital in order to quickly be able to resume vital functions in society. Fair enough. I guess that’s a good idea although having all official figures flee the capital after an earthquake might be a little bit provoking to the other 13 million non-essential people left behind but I guess the greater cause motivates such a decision…

Now stand-by-ville will feature facilities for parliament, ministries and other functions as well as resort facilities and… CASINOS. Odd choice? Well it seems that the town will serve as some sort of resort in times of calmness  but I strongly suspect that that is just an excuse. Maybe the masterminds behind this city thought really hard about how to quickly return things to “normal” after a huge disaster. What they then must have realized is that the normal state of mind of a government official is actually slightly sauced up, spending money on women and gambling so they logically  reasoned that providing facilities for this was essential to quickly “resume vital functions in society”.

Brilliant.


Almost dying in Japan – part 1

… or maybe not, but for a while there it felt like I was about to. Hence the lack of updates. Sorry about that.

So ever since I came here I have found the japanese approach to medical treatment and medication a bit amusing. Even the slightest cold is battled with a battery of drugs that could probably sustain a whole year’s need of medicine in a third world country. Coming from a country where “common” illnesses (cold, fever, minor infections) are considered to best treated by staying in bed and drinking hot tea until the storm passes over, I find the Japanese viewpoint a pretty amusing and interesting. Furthermore, we are constantly bombarded with more or less useful information in school on how to avoid the latest “epidemic”, be it a new flu virus or heatstroke, which is sometimes just plain annoying. I mean any normal person can figure out that drinking water is quite essential if the summer temperature is soaring around 38 degrees Celsius right? Being a person that almost NEVER gets sick I don’t pay so much attention to all this and have so far happily went on with my life without any major complications, health wise at least.

Until last wednesday.

It started with a bit of a soar throat on wednesday evening right before going to bed. And being raised the way I was I did what my mom always told me and my siblings to do when having a sore throat and ate a raw clove of garlic (horrible, yes. I almost threw up) drank a big cup of hot tea with honey and went to bed hoping it would feel better  the next day. Unfortunately that was not the case when I woke up eight hours later. So before going to school on thursday I stopped by the drugstore and bought some prescription free cold medicine.

Now seeing as I am not completely crazy and don’t talk a whole lot to myself I hadn’t really spoken anything that whole day before coming to school. So it wasn’t until I greeted my teacher that I realized that my voice was all fucked up. It sounded like a mix of the voice of an extremely drunk person and the voice of someone who has smoked two, three packs of filter free cigarettes for the last 30~40 years. My teacher looked slightly shocked and asked me how I was feeling but I said it was nothing and that I would be fine in no time. At the end of the first lesson my teacher once again asked how I was feeling and suggested that I might better go and see a doctor since apparently some new nasty string of virus was out there causing havoc. Honestly I just thought “Yeah, yeah, here we go again, run to the doctor as soon as you sneeze” but I politely said that if I wasn’t feeling better tomorrow I would. Class started again but because of my lack of speaking ability, and the fact that I was now also starting to burn up on the inside, it was less than rewarding for me so by the end of the second class I decided to opt out and get home for a long rest.

After finally getting home I immediately crashed in my bed and woke up like eight hours later around midnight slightly confused and drenched in sweat. The pain in my throat had gone from bad to, well… hmmm…what is the worst word for worse I know… … oh, yeah, HELLISH, and swallowing and trying to drink the smallest amount of water was now close to impossible. Starting to admit to defeat I started to search for hospitals or clinics around my house and was happily surprised that there actually was a ENT (ear nose and throat, or if you fancy Otolaryngology) clinic exactly 17 meters from my house and decided to pay them a visit the next morning.

After a very painful night where I maybe got a total of one and a half hours of sleep the level of pain was unchanged. Adding to this was now also the fact that my energy levels were plummeting due to absolutely no consumption of solid foods during the previous 20 hours. I discovered a small can of yoghurt in my fridge and decided to give it a try seeing as I might have to wait for a long time at the clinic and passing out due to lack of energy wasn’t very high on my wish list at that time. The pack maybe contained around 200 ml of kiddies yoghurt (yupp, still eat those even though I’m all grown up) and it took me a ridiculously long time to finish it. Problem 1 was simply opening my mouth which due to the pain had locked itself in a shut position. Problem 2 consisted of chewing the small pieced of fruit since every bite (chew?) made me want to scream out in pain (which I luckily couldn’t due to problem 1). Then lastly, swallowing the damn thing was near to impossible but bit by bit i forced myself and eventually managed to finish the yoghurt  (something that would normally take me 30 seconds to slurp down) in F O R T Y freaking minutes.

It was time to set off down the street to the clinic. Now a a self explanatory problem living in a country where the spoken language is one that you don’t master is that telling someone that you are sick and that point A hurts etc. etc. becomes pretty difficult. Now before I came I had heard that Japanese people are so poor at speaking english and so on but I didn’t really believe that one of the most advanced countries in the world could be so backwards in that aspect but having lived here for almost a year now I must sadly admit that that its partly true. Well, my experience is that no one who would benefit from knowing a little english (policemen, immigration office workers, bank staff) can formulate a decent sentence. On the other hand, people whom you could get along fine with without speaking any english at all (bartenders, drunk college kids, old grannies at the super market) will more than often be pretty good at it. Strange. Anyhow, I didn’t want to take my chances of any confusion at the clinic so I prepared myself mentally for japanese-only communication.

Now came problem numero due. How the F do you communicate with anyone (in any language) when you yourself is physically incapable of opening your mouth or formulating words? (unless you and your conversation partner both know sign language, which I don’t) I had, during my pain induced insomnia the night before, decided that I would have to write a note explaining who I was, why I was there, that I at the moment couldn’t speak, where it was hurting and so on. So I sat down with a pen and paper and started scribbling away. Was actually a bit proud of myself for being able to write a whole page about my symptoms in Japanese with kanjis and stuff and while doing this thanking myself for actually paying attention during that one day in school when we actually had a class dealing what to do or say in  Japanese if you ever need to see a doctor.

So off I went with my little note and not even one block down the road was the little clinic. I opened the door, got the expected gaijin stare from the other patients in the waiting room, and proceeded to the reception. The little woman there looked at me with a very perplexed face when I without saying anything just handed over the note to her. Though after reading it, she looked at me and I could really feel the pity that the she was feeling for me and she soflty said “ok, ok don’t worry any more I understand and we will take care of you”. Yay! Success! After dealing with some insurance paper work she told me to wait until my name was called.

Now there was no empty seat in the waiting room which, even though I walked into the clinic exactly one minute after it opened in the morning, was packed. Now it was a very small clinic so by packed I mean about twelve people crammed into a 6 square meter “waiting corner”. The crowed consisted of senior citizens and mothers with babies. Exclusively. And now a blonde blue-eyed foreigner was thrown into the mix which I could see disturbed at least one granny’s peace of mind.

I usually have no problem with the elderly and they are usually pretty fond of me for some reason, at least in my home country. And when the obachan (granny) in this question this time saw that I was filling out this form I had been given in japanese she seemed to relax a bit and gave me a approving not and something that could be interpreted as a smile.

Now as for childen. Well, I don’t love them but I don’t hate them either. To me  they are just small persons who have yet to learn how to behave properly in society. Sometimes this has cute outcomes, sometimes it is just annoying. Now my personal experience is that children in hospitals is a very unfortunate combination indeed. This is because they are almost exclusively combined due to one of the following reasons.

  1. They are visiting someone who is sick or they are there because mommy or daddy is sick and couldn’t find a baby sitter. Both are very boring and not so stimulating circumstances for a child I would assume and often results in the cild becoming frustrated and running around / screaming / crying due to boredom.
  2. The child is sick which of course is hard on anyone regardless of age. The difference though, is that a child hasn’t learned that screaming / crying isn’t going to make the pain/itch/nausea go away like a grown up has and more than often lets his / her frustrations out publicly making him/ her a nuisance to the rest of the room.

And unsurprisingly the sound track to the one hour I had to wait until I could see the doctor was endless screaming and crying and the occasional throw-yourself-on-the floor-in-a-fit-of-rage-performance. As you know I was in pain before I stepped into the clinic but this took my ache and misery to a whole new level. The poor parents tried to calm their little devil spawns but with no success and I don’t blame them. Hell, If I thought screaming and crying would help me get better faster I sure as hell would have done so too no matter what anyone else thought or said about it. I happened to glance on a notice board on wall and saw that I had timed my visit perfectly. Every friday was “children’s day” at that clinic which explained the circumstances but it left me wondering what the parents are supposed to do if their child becomes ill on a…tuesday?

Anyways, after about one hour my name (or at least a severely butchered and mispronounced version of it) was called and I stepped behind a little curtain to see my savior. I was met by a small female doctor and a group of three nurses huddeling over the desk whispering  すごい!(sugoi = amazing) きれい (kiree = pretty) 信じられない (I can’t believe it)  to each other. I made my presence aware to them by an attempted “good morning” which must have sounded more like a bear vomiting and they all looked up at me. “Good morning” said the doctor and held up my note that I had given to the lady in the reception, “did you write this YOURSELF?” she then proceeded to ask me to which I replied with a nod. “AMAZING” one of the nurses said in a loud voice. “It’s like a miracle” said another.

The doctor told me to take a seat and while she was squeezing my tongue, looking down my throat, spraying stuff up my nose etc. she went on and on about how incredible it was that I had written ALL THAT all by myself. I felt sort of awkward since I couldn’t reply anything, not even nod or smile, due to the fact that my moth was now wide open and filled with tubes and other stuff but I tried to waved a little with my hand to make an attempted “please stop it you are embarrassing me gesture”.

Now I am almost 100 per cent sure that every foreigner living here and who is able to formulate the simplest sentence in japanese have had to hear the following phrase so many times that the words have almost started to become vomit inducing:

日本語が上手ですね!(nihongo ga jouzu desu ne = your japanese is soooo good)

I am being told this maybe 10-15 times a week and now I just don’t bother to make an effort to reply in the expected way and just say まぁね (ma ne = I guess) if its just some random person saying it to me. Some people find it very bothersome to be told this on a regular basis but I try not to think about it too much and just let it pass as meaningless politeness. In my country no one would say that to a foreign resident who is fluent/close to fluent in my language due to the fact that is is pretty degrading to that persons intellect. I mean languages are hard, yes, but it is not rocket science and especially if you live in a place where basically no other form of communication (e.i. english) is viable you are left with two options. 1. Only talk to people whom you know speak the languages you already know. Quite tricky and not so convenient. Or 2. suck it up and learn the new language. The japanese however seem so think that their language is basically impossible to learn for a none-japanese citizen. True it is HARD, but not IMPOSSIBLE. So maybe that’s why they are so amazed every time a gaijin opens their mouth and utters even the simplest phrase in japanese. But what do I know?

But what I was experiencing in that chair in that clinic was beyond anything I’ve previously experienced in terms of amazement. The praises rained down on me like a tropical monsoon and the fact that I could write kanji as well made one of the nurses start to complain loudly about how a foreigner could write more neatly than her two up-to-no-good sons who were 100 per cent japanese. After I was done being examined I just smiled and said thank you and the doctor then explained to me that I had a very bad case of tonsillitis and that I needed to rest at home for at least 5 days and eat a shit load of drugs during those days. I was then asked to go and sit by a machine from which a nurse pulled out a long tube where smoke/vapor (?) was coming out from the end. She shoved it down my throat and told me to sit still for 15 minutes while the vapor?smoke killed all the bacteria in my throat. Fine enough.

During those 15 minutes other patients were let in to the room and now it got ridiculous. The frisky little doctor showed every freaking patient that came after me my note, pointed to me and said something like “can you believe that that mr. foreigner wrote this all by himself?”. And the reactions were always the same. Ooooh-ing and aaaah-ing and then inspecting the note and nodding approvingly. And there I was sitting like an idiot with a fucking vapor blowing tube down my throat not being able to say jack. When one tiny little granny gave me a thumbs up while passing me I seriously just wanted to stand up and leave but she was actually so cute so I let it pass…

Eventually the vapor session ended and I was released. I paid, picked up my prescription and said good bye and the whole staff (and some of the other patients) cheerfully waved me off and told me to keep up the good work with the japanese. Thanks. I stopped by the pharmacy and got a shitload of different drugs and returned home hoping this would be the beginning of the end of this horrible illness. Boy was I wrong…

More about that in the next post!

Stay healthy

お大事に!


If you are looking for a Hello Kitty humidifier, look no further!

Going shopping in Japan is for the most part a very pleasant experience. Coming from a country where the service culture is close to none existent and where asking for assistance in a store is more than often met with a sigh from the staff the japanese way of treating customers feels almost heavenly. Now this post is about a store where the service level is below average but the actual store itself makes up for the lack of bowing and overly polite welcome phrases.

I am talking about.

ドンキホーテ (Don Quijote) or simply ドンキ (Donki)

Now I have no idea why the founder decided to name his store after a 17th century novel about a slightly insane man fighting windmills but as with so many things here I am sure there is absolutely no logical explanation. I’m pretty sure that most japanese people are unfamiliar with the novel anyway so it’s not like it matters. Anyways, Donki is the kind of store which you can not walk out of without buying something. Last time I visited I was just stopping by to pick up some toothpaste and soap but when I left I had managed to purchase.

1. Toothpaste

2. Soap

and…

3. Granola

4. A set of towels

5. Two bottles of wine

6. A new cover for my iPhone

7. 5 pairs of socks

8. A lot of candy.

And this my dear readers is what makes this store truly great. They sell everything. And by everything I mean ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. Name one random thing and I’ll bet you a 1000¥ that it is available at Donki (disclaimer, no money will actually be paid out in case of a lost bet). The opening hours are also extremely generous with some of the stores staying open 24/7 which is sort of dangerous if you ever decide to visit at let’s say 4 a.m. after a night out while waiting for the first train. The things I brought home that night still make me laugh. But that is another story. Adding to the greatness is the price level. Its cheap. Not extremely cheap, but still below average.

Donki is found near pretty much every major train station but my favorite one is the one in Shibuya which sports 5 or 6 (I don’t remember exactly) floors packed with everything from dildos and furniture to alcohol and brand watches. The store itself is cramped as hell due to the abundance of goods and the isles are sometimes painfully narrow making it a place I think I would prefer not to be at if (when) a big earthquake hits Tokyo. The noise level is also pretty high with frantic background music mixed with even more frantic sales ads constantly streaming from the store’s speakers. To fully enjoy this post you should click HERE and listen to the chain’s theme song while reading this. It is actually pretty catchy and I’ve found myself humming on it on several occasions.

During my last visit I amused myself with taking pictures of some of the things available for purchase at Donki and so I thought I would share this with you dear readers. In no particular order。

Darling would you stop by Donki and pick up some shampoo, beer and a laundry machine...

Less than tasteful men's underwear

Very convenient that fake eye lashes are available 24/7! I wonder if the bow is included?

Is your home both dry and uncute? Kill two birds with one stone with this "Hello Kitty humidifier"!

Cellphones

Body-shaping and flabber-tightening clothes.

Noooooooodles.

A luxury brand bag to carry the noodles home with?

It's Japan, of course they sell video games

Some dried stingray to snack on while playing your new video game

And finally, my personal favourite!

The men's size maid outfit! Oh how I have been searching for this! Someone just decided what he will be wearing for Halloween...

Can you imagine? All this crap under the same roof. Well I am not going to deny it. I love Donki and I hope I will one day be able to afford to buy a laundry machine there so I can wash my maid costume which I accidentally spilled noodle soup on…

Thanx for reading!

(Footnone: after posting the “Sorry no very young porn here” post the number of visitors have soared by about 50%. I apologize to all of you who were searching for “young porn”, “cat porn” etc. and accidentally ended up here)


Sorry no young porn here…

So I just found that there is a function here where I can check which search terms (on search engines) have lead people to this little corner of cyberspace. Very amusing indeed.

  • “Gaijin blog” tops the list with no less than 13 clicks. Not so surprising at all.
  • “Cat reaction face” is a good runner up but only sports 3 clicks.

Then there are a whole bunch of more or less amusing one-click-searches but my two favorites are definitely.

  • “Why are umbrellas so crappy”. I often contemplate about this too but I am sorry to say that I have yet to find a good answer. If anyone has a good one, let me know! My mom has an old fully functioning umbrella at home that used to belong to my great grandmother so I guess in this case the old cliche “they don’t make them like they used to” actually has some validity.
  • “Very young porn”. Sorry to disappoint whomever it was that was looking for this. I do wonder though why the search engine’s algorithm decided that this blog was worth listing and also if this seeker of young porn found my writing amusing and/or arousing?
Will keep a close eye on the site stats from now on. Maybe this can become a weekly post?

Welcome home young masters!

But first…

So sorry for the lack of updates. I’ve had my family visiting me so I barely had any time to sleep between trying to get them to like japanese food and showing them the sights. On the other hand it was quite the eventful week so I have plenty of writing material to compensate for the recent lack of posting.

Since my parents planned (and paid) for basically everything during their visit it felt quite fair that they also had the most influence when it came to choosing activities. This resulted in numerous visits to museums, famous buildings and temples, temples, temples…. oh and some more temples.

Fair enough, I enjoyed most of it and found maybe 90 per cent of the temples very beautiful but in my opinion (correct me if I am wrong) Japan is so much more than just temples. So when we one day decided that we didn’t have to spend every waken minute with each other my parents decided to (surprise, surprise) visit a park with a famous…. TEMPLE and me and my siblings decided to head for 秋葉原 (Akihabara), Tokyo’s “Electric Town”.

We decided to meet up with my Japanese friend R there and enjoy ourselves in one of the hundreds of arcades and my lil’ bro was more than excited. Although it ended up just being my bro and me that finally went since my sister had the worst hangover ever and had to head back to the hotel after our breakfast at Starbucks where she spend more time in the bathroom than actually eating/drinking her breakfast…

Now Akihabara is mostly famous for the vast amount of electronic, TV/Computer-game and Anime/Manga stores found in the area but after spending a good two hours in one of the Arcade hall beating each other up in Street Fighter 2 we decided we needed a coffee break. My friend R, who harbors a very nerdy alter ego which usually surfaces when stepping out on the platform in Akihabara station, suggested we go to a メイドカフェ (Maid Cafe)  which is another specialty of Akihabara.

As the name suggests the staff at these joints are girls dressed out in old style french maid outfits. Not the slutty, porn version of the french maid outfit (at least not at any of the places I have visited but I wouldn’t be very surprised if that sort of joint exists as well) but rather a very “cute” innocent version complete with an abundance of bows and stuffed animals attached to the costume. Rabbit or cat ears are also frequently worn on the head. Why? I have no freaking idea. Maybe it is supposed to add to the cuteness…?

These sort of joints originally started to pop up about a decade or so ago to cater the needs of the japanese オタク/otaku/nerds obsessed with video games, anime and manga. In anime and manga the maid-type character is often portrayed as very beautiful, pure and desirable and by providing the otaku with a venue where they could spend actual face-to-face time with the girls of their (wet) dreams the maid cafes soon became a hit and are now found all over Japan. Now at the two occasions where I have visited maid cafes a majority (say around 50 per cent) of the clientele were in fact otaku/nerds drooling over the poor girls working there. However, the other 50 per cent consisted of a mix of couples, senior citizens (???) and tourists so I guess the popularity of maid cafes have spread to all corners of japanese (and foreign too for that matter) society.

Anyways, me, lil’ bro and R started searching for a suitable joint which was easier said than done. The streets of Akihabara were filled with maid girls handing out flyers and promoting their respective cafes but we eventually picked a place where we were promised a discount on the service charge (foul Japanese phenomenon) and followed our guide up some stairs into the cafe.

There we were greeted by ten girls in maid outfits shrieking “welcome home young masters” with such a high pitch I though my ears were going to start bleeding. R just laughed and applauded the chorus, lil’ bro was noticeably embarrassed and uncomfortable and me, well I was just glad to be called “young master” even though I’m passed 25. The joint itself was not so remarkable as you would have expected. Pink walls with little hearts and messages written on them and some pictures of the staff but other than that nothing special.

Of course, since we were two foreigners, there was the initial “gaijin stare” but it wasn’t too bad and the girl that had escorted us there said they have plenty of foreign customers so I guess we weren’t all that exotic. Not before long a short girl with the worst set of teeth I have ever seen in my life came up to us and explained that she would be our waitress for the day. Now if you have ever been to japan I’m sure you have noticed that cafe and sometimes shop staff here speak in these very baby-like made up voices for some weird reason. To me it just sounds stupid, borderline disturbing but I kid you not, our waitress took this to a whole new level speaking in a voice that could best be described  as a mix of the voices of a baby child, a cat in pain, and a slightly retarded person. Although very painful to listen to at first it soon became so absurd that the only thing you could do about it was simply to laugh it off.

We were first informed of the rules of the joint and among the numerous restrictions of liberty was the “no photo rule” which was motivated by “photos make the maid magic disappear which causes them to melt…”. Fair enough… I guess.  Hence the lack of photos in this post. Although they have my full sympathy in this since I guess the real reason behind the rule is that they don’t want the pervy customers sitting at home jerking off to the staffs pictures.

After the this the maid lit up some “magic” candle by blowing at it. Although it took three attempts and a change of batteries since she could get it right.The menu was filled with pretty normal dishes that had been given cute names but we weren’t really hungry so we just opted for coffee coke and some over-priced chocolate ice cream. Now when ordering at this particular cafe you didn’t say the usual “exuse me” to get the waitress’ attention. Instead you were supposed to say “ニャン、ニャン” (nyan, nyan) and wave your hand like a kitten playing with a ball of yarn… hard to explain. R meant that this was considered “cute”. To me it was just stupid so I let R do the whole ordering thingie complete with the “nyan, nyan”.

Buck-teeth girl soon came back with our drinks and ice cream but before we could start drinking we had to participate in some little ritual in which the maid used her “magic powers” to make the drinks and food even more tasteful. The ritual consisted of a little chant together with some choreography which went something like

「美味しくな~れ、ムイ、ムイ、フラッシュ!」

  translated: “become delicious, mui mui flash!”

  (disclamer for 100% accurate translation)

The choreography consisted of shaping a heart with your hands and then when the “flash” was uttered “shooting” that heart towards your food/beverage. Very strange indeed but we played along happily. After that buck-tooth left us and we enjoyed watching the other customers and of course our beverages and ice-cream. at some point another unfortunate looking girl came up to us and offered us to buy a ticket for some sort of lottery but we passed seeing as the winning tickets granted you a free beverage upon your next visit and we weren’t planning on becoming regulars.

Then after another 15 minutes the room suddenly went dark and music started playing. Two of the girls took to the small stage that was in one of the corners and announced that it was time for the hourly “magical performance”. About 30 seconds into the act I decided that it wasn’t very magical at all since it just consisted of the two girls jumping up and down chanting something I couldn’t really make out what it was and in regular intervals screaming ”ハート、ハート” (haato, haato = heart heart) in very high pitch voices. None of the other customers seemed to be very impressed either and I actually felt a little sorry for the two girls and the rest of the staff as well who were frantically cheering them on so when a third buck-toothed (maybe that was one of the employment prerequisites of that cafe?) came and asked if we wanted to buy a “happy magical concert stick” I actually forked out the 500¥ and bought one. It kept glowing for about 5 minutes and then died out about the same time as the performance was over…

For a more vivid and visual demonstration of the events that took place at the cafe, check out THIS video. It includes everything from the greeting, to the candy and the little chant to make the food more delicious. It even features a performance but believe me, the one we experienced makes the one in the video seem like its an angel singing.

After the magical performance we just sat around discussing why someone actually would wanna work at a place like that. I couldn’t for the world figure out why a 20-year old girl looking for a part-time job would prefer a job like this over a normal waitressing job. R was saying that the maid job probably paid a little better and that many of the girls in fact were dreaming of a career in voice-acting (as in being the voice of characters in anime series and film). How this at all was related to working in a maid cafe beats me and R didn’t provide any satisfactory explanation and seeing as I was a little worn out from the  night before I decided not to get into a discussion that in fact rely didn’t interest me all that much.

We must have talked for quite a while because before we knew it was announced that it was time for… (Yes you guessed right) The hourly magical performance! We did not want to push faith and risk loosing our hearing so we quickly nyan:ed and asked for the bill. Upon leaving we were sent off with a bow and buck tooth waitress #1 said she would miss us and hoped that her three “young masters” would come back soon… We will see about that…


Sampling Kore… euhm Japan #3 – Seoulfood

Man, this is turning into a pure food blog. But that’s just because there is an endless supply of delicious treats in this town.

So as the name suggests todays sample isn’t actually Japanese but rather a very tasty Korean dish I’ve grown extremely fond of during the last couple of months. I am talking about サムギョプサル (Samgyeopsal) (no idea of how to write it in Korean, not that it matters…)

Just north of Tokyo’s red light district is 新大久保 (Shin-Ookubo), a mini Korea in the middle of the Japanese capital. Now the buildings all look as they do everywhere else in Tokyo but instead of Sushi-places and Ramen-shops there is an abundance of Korean restaurants and shops (ok, yes there are Sushi-places and Ramen shops as well but not on every corner at least). Apart from the restaurants, Korean grocery shops, record stores and Korean people are also very numerous. Especially amusing are the Koren “Idol” shops selling buttons, coffee mugs, T-shirts and posters of plastic-surgery-perfect Korean pop idols.

Korean pop culture is at the moment extremely popular in Japan and hoards of Japanese women (mainly) flock around the Idol shops of Shin Ookubo to get a pen case or a coffee thermos with their favourite Kim/Hyung/Jung/Dae-Ho/Dong-Min on it. I have even seen busloads of middle-aged Japanese ladies disembarking outside one of these Idol shops all screaming out of excitement. Why K-pop is so popular at the moment beats me. The music sounds very much like J-pop…

Oh well, enough about Korean Idols, maybe I’ll write another post solely about that in the future.

Let’s get back to the food.

サムギョプサル (Samgyeopsal)

Here is how it works. After placing your order (on the occasion the photos were taken the dinner set us back around 2,300¥ each which included food and two beers) the staff brings a hot plate with some sort of teflon thingie on it and place it on your table. After it has becomes hot enough they put the pork belly slices, kimchi and some other vegetables (usually onion, sweet potato garlic etc.) on it and the customer gets to enjoy seeing the food being cooked in front of their eyes. The staff (depending on the level of service of the joint in question) once in a while comes and checks on the goodies and occasionally turn the pork slices to avoid burning. While waiting you can amuse yourself by listening to uber-commerical K-pop and (at least at the establishments I’ve visited) the walls are littered with K-pop idol pictures so it almost feels like you are in Seoul. Or not…

Anyways…

When it is ready they cut the pork up into bite size pieces with a pair of scissors and now the feast begins!

Aside from the stuff that is cooked on the plate you also get a variety of small side dishes, usually different kinds of veggies, tofu and some tasty dipping sauce. Rice is optional but I usually pass on it since the meat and the veggies are enough to make me full. Lastly there are whole lettuce leaves used as wrapping when eating. So you take a lettuce leaf, fill it with some meat, kimchi, fried veggies and some of the other goodies, roll it up, take a bite and BAM! Your taste buds are in heaven. Pure effin’ heaven.

Now where I am from Korean food is far from as wide-spread or popular as Japanese food is. This is something I just cannot understand since it is F R E A K I N G awesome! And the king of the Korean cuisine kingdom is (to me at least) is Samgyeopsal.

So if you, dear (44) readers, have the chance to try it please promise me that you will. I will hunt you down and choke you with kimchi if you don’t!

So long / annyeong!